This was, by far, the most challenging experience I encountered when doing these interviews. Maybe it was because I was so caught up in these pragmatic sides that I forgot to understand them as well. I guess Dr. Culliford was indeed right. He told me that my questions reveal a certain way of thinking, called “dualistic”, which I don’t find suitable for me to be honest(an either/or, right/wrong, us/them type of thinking). But I believe that this exact unconscious way of presenting anything may reflect the thinker’s true nature.
As for a resume of Dr. Culliford, born on St Patrick’s Day 1950,he is a psychiatrist in Sussex, England and the author of The Psychology of Spirituality. He has also written several books on happiness using the pen-name Patrick Whiteside. He was a co-founder of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group. A former Chair of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, he is also a member of the International Thomas Merton Society and the Scientific and Medical Network.
He is also writing an amazing blog for PsychologyToday.com which I recommend to everyone (Spiritual Wisdom for Secular Times). All the links you need to find will be down below.
Now let’s hear the interview!
Q1: how would you define Spirituality? (because I believe Science is obviously explained)
“Because it is without boundaries, no-one can ‘define’ spirituality. It is not like a specimen to pin down, dissect and analyse; more like an adventure park to explore.
I find it helpful to think in terms of five, seamlessly related, ‘dimensions’ of human experience. The spiritual dimension is one. The others are: physical (matter & energy), biological (life), psychological (mind) and social (community). The spiritual dimension involves universal experiences of love, awe, wonder, mystery, meaning, purpose, ‘something greater than each to which we all belong’, something whole and indivisible; a divine and sacred unity, in other words, that some people on occasion call ‘God’.”
Q2: do you consider religion an influential factor of Spirituality? Why so?
“All religions relate to and interpret the spiritual dimension of human experience, but – like Science – they inhabit the physical world too, having life especially in the social dimension, bringing people together to discover and worship the sacred according to different formulae and traditions. On the face of things, the different religions appear separate, and – through immature, incomplete, mainly dualistic thinking – can be divisive, causing problems and suffering. Religions tend to come together, though, through their more mature, mystical spiritual pathways.”
Q3: regarding the connection between Science and Spirituality, do you think they equally influence each other, or one is more present?
“It is all one! Science and Spirituality both have ways of understanding human experience of life, nature and the universe. Science deals principally with the physical and biological dimensions, also (but with less precision) the psychological and social. However, Science’s dualistic approach encourages, even enforces, people to take sides and ignore, even reject, Spirituality. However, a scientist who is ignorant and dismissive of his or her own spiritual nature, and the spiritual nature of whatever he/she is investigating, is arguably as at as great a disadvantage as is a spiritually-minded person who is ignorant and dismissive of the ways and findings of science.”
Q4: have you always put them on the same level of importance, by combining them or did one of them was, at first, more powerful?
Q5: were you ever supposed to apply one’s mechanism on a patient, but against your decision?
“No. My understanding of what it means to be a doctor involves a powerful kind of personal integrity: to be as knowledgeable as possible, to remain independent-minded, to take full responsibility for whatever one might say and do (also for whatever one might leave unsaid and undone), and to treat each patient as one would wish to be treated by any good doctor. Being a doctor, practising medicine and psychiatry, has therefore been an essential aspect of my personal spiritual journey, one I felt called (at the age of sixteen) to undertake.”
Q6: having in mind the fact that people are born with certain inclinations, as judging with their mind rather than soul or the other way around, do you think they should pursue what they feel secure with or explore and use both?
“The real security in life always involves seeking and trusting a kind of ‘spiritual’ comfort-zone, rather than a worldly one. Maintaining spiritual awareness – through prayer, meditation and other methods – gives a person the necessary discernment to follow the path that is not only right for them but that will also bring most benefit to others. It will not usually seem like the safest path, far from it sometimes, but the necessary protection, guidance, courage, hope and determination will be present to help you along the way. This is seldom the case when attempting to avoid suffering, or when self-seeking worldly ambitions take hold.”
Q7: should kids be taught since childhood to connect the two or rather they make that decision themselves?
“There is good evidence that children, in their early years, are aware of a special relationship between themselves, other people, nature and something bigger altogether, something divine. Later, when they are discouraged from talking about their inner worlds, when they also experience conditioning into the prevailing secular culture and the ‘evidence-based’ traditions of science, this spiritual sensibility is lost or goes underground. Only in some people does it re-emerge later.
There is good evidence, too, though that children introduced in school to regular meditation or ‘stilling’ benefit in terms of their conduct, relations with their peers and teachers, improved learning ability, creativity and imagination. They are calmer, happier and more mature. I would therefore recommend at least this. It would also help if science teachers were to retain, express and share regularly their own sense of wonder concerning the subjects they teach, rather than reduce it to text book summaries and the dull repetition of ‘facts’ for later regurgitation by pupils in their exams. (I’m sure many teachers try to do this.) That way, Science and Spirituality will remain in harmony for each child.”
Q8: do you agree with the classification Dura-Vila made in her book ( ‘Sadness, Depression, and the Dark Night of the Soul: transcending the medicalisation of sadness’) regarding the two types of “deep sadness” as well as their effects?
“Broadly-speaking, I do agree; and I have written a great deal on the advisability for mental health professionals to ‘take a spiritual history’ as part of routine assessments. However, it may be slightly simplistic to think dualistically in terms of either this kind of sadness or another kind. Both may be present to some degree. I have always taught that the first question to ask and answer is, ‘Who is this person to whom these things are happening?’ rather than, ‘What has gone wrong with this person?’ That way, seeing your patient as a whole person on a journey through life, you are less likely to make harmful mistakes.”
Q9: can you share one moment of your life, if you have one, when Science and Spirituality blended in together without you interfering?
“Science and Spirituality are not separate. Every moment, from my first breath, my soul – like yours and everyone’s – has dwelt in the certain knowledge, in the greatest of all truths, that all is sacred; all is one.”
I admit, my questions seemed childish as if I were a little kid learning how to write. It all seemed so clear in my head, two distinct concepts that may interfere sometimes. I was really wrong. The way in which Dr. Culliford’s answers hit me reflect this Black&White thinking pattern I didn’t recognise as mine before. The fact that I understood this is what I really am thankful for.
PsycologyToday blog: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spiritual-wisdom-secular-times